Eric Kraus

productivity

Month #5 – Meditation

I have been practicing some form of meditation since the beginning of 2015.  It has been part of my #ResponsiveResolutions (12 monthly resolutions instead of 1 yearly) project, which I’ve regretfully not been consistently blogging about.  On the topic of meditation though, I’ve learned a lot about my own personal practice and about myself in general.  It’s an interesting topic and journey, and it is something I think everyone could benefit from.  Here’s what a typical Q&A conversation goes like.

Why did you start?

To be honest, I started exploring the topic because of the hype I’ve read about it.  It seems like every successful business executive to entrepreneur attributes some level of their success to daily meditation.  A little bit of curiosity and some research later, I was in…and hooked.  As I mentioned in the intro, every month I am exploring a new ‘habit’ to modify.  This was a habit that would also strengthen my (desired) habit of waking up earlier and investing in myself.

What are you learning?

There are three major learnings that I have gathered from this journey.  Absolutely most critical: you need to make meditation a ritual.  You also can’t expect it to be perfect out of the gate and, journaling can help you learn about yourself and adapt meditation to be more successful for you.

Make it a Ritual

First things first was to figure out ‘when’ I could find the time to meditate.  I thought about doing a mid-day meditation…trying to break the stress of the day in half.  I quickly concluded that this would be a hard ritual to keep.  My next choice would be to do it in the morning.  At the time, my morning rituals would consist of sleeping until 7am, helping get the kids up, feeding the pets, showering and taking off for rush hour traffic.  I knew if I tried to fit in even 15 minutes of quiet time for myself — it likely wouldn’t work either.  Luckily I was already keeping a monthly resolution to get up early (5am).  Meditation felt like a perfect way to help strengthen that ritual and also give it purpose.  Obviously, 5am isn’t required for this.  Setting your morning alarm for 20 minutes earlier is all that would be needed.

Shoot First, Then Aim and Adjust

My research warned me there was no ‘right way’ to meditate.  It’s a little bit of the old saying “you get what you put in”.  Unfortunately, this means a little trial and error and some patience is required.  It will take some time to find out what works for you.  So, you should go in with a commitment of at least a couple weeks.  Experiment a little.  First try to force yourself to think about nothing.  Focusing only on breathing is a good way to do this.  Also, experiment with thinking about just one thing. In both cases, as your mind might wander, bring it back to your focus.

Write About It

I wrote another post completely dedicated to Journaling.  I think this is absolutely critical.  It doesn’t need to be a lengthy saga about the experience.  It could just be a few sentences in a Field Notes notebook or anywhere for that matter.  I like small physical notebooks because they are simple and can go anywhere with me.  Write about what you are thinking after meditation.  This will help you tune in to the output of the meditation.  Something quick and dirty, no more than 5 minutes time.  Also, very important: always re-read your written thoughts…often. This will help you discover about yourself and will help you fine-tune your practices.

Specifically, What do you think about?

This is the #1 question, but I saved it for last.  Every day is a little different for me.  Some days, I just want to “stop thinking”.  I wake up and my mind instantly starts going.  A colleague of mine often says, “sometimes you need to slow down to speed up”.  This slow-down practice helps me enter the day, usually with a journaling session, with clear mind.  Other days, I want to focus on a specific topic.  Usually, I’m trying to drill something into my head or explore that topic for alternative ideas.  For example, I may focus my session entirely on how I need to be more patient in my life.  Or, how I am going to deliver difficult feedback to a family member.  Another day, I might just think about what I NEED to get done for the day.  In any of the cases, I have learned to enter my meditation session with a specific goal in mind.

Big Take Aways

Be intentional about using your “me” time.  No matter what you do during your “meditation”, it will benefit you best if you set goals, dedicate time to think (or not think) about it and measure your progress along the way.

Benefits of Journaling

Journaling has become a valuable tool in many successful people’s toolboxes. But if you haven’t had a chance to give it a try, you may wonder, “What are the benefits of journaling and how can I use it as a tool to help me accomplish my goals?”

For one of the months for my Responsive Resolutions, I decided to try journaling every day. I had heard of the benefits of journaling from colleagues, but had never actually spent the time to commit to it. However, I was willing to suck it up and try it, at least for a month.

Finding time to journal was actually relatively easy. I decided to keep my first month’s resolution of waking up at 5 am – which on a side note, has been a game changer for my productivity. I now have plenty of time to get a work out in, write, read or now journal before the craziness of the day begins.


Related: How to Wake Up Early – Tricks to Getting the Most Out of the Day





“Writing about myself always seemed superficial”

I’ll admit I was a bit of a skeptic with the idea of journaling. Writing about myself always seemed superficial. I never fashioned myself as a guy that kept a “diary”. I already spent a lot of time reflecting on my personal life, work, goals, etc. Writing them down almost seems redundant to me.

What I found was kind of interesting.

Benefits of Journaling

“…the things I am reflecting on are always within my control”

The process of journaling wasn’t so much about writing, as it was planning. I was learning a lot about myself, as I would expect, but it was the increase in productivity that really caught my interest.

Over the course of reflecting on success/mistakes of the past and setting new goals for the future, one thing always stood out in my mind: the things I am reflecting on are always within my control.

“Why am I not doing anything about it?”

So, naturally my reflection of these thoughts was, “Why am I not doing anything about it?”  THIS is where the magic happens. Inevitably, this reflection caused me to take some action, even if it is only to add an item to my task list. I don’t beat myself up over anything, but taking some action to improve the future ensures I am always growing.

My journaling has drastically shifted away from free-form writing or prompt/question and answer to more of a goal review and task planning for the day. Here’s a quick look at the structure and benefits of journaling I am seeing in my daily life.

Journaling Outline

Time To Complete: 10 minutes

Completed/Failed

Each journaling session starts out with a list of things I have completed or failed in the day(s) since I wrote last. This can be anything noteworthy, planned or unplanned. The goal is to acknowledge accomplishments, which is often a step that we over look and call out mistakes for further reflection.

Benefit: This is my way of measuring productivity and creating focus on personal growth. Reviewing the last few journal entries also gives me the opportunity to make sure no Must-Do tasks are getting left behind.

Must Do

After I review the pervious journal entries and get my Completed list done, I transition into my must-do list. As the name describes, this list is designed to reflect on the things I must do that day. Often these task items were already on a task list somewhere, but by journaling about them first thing in the morning, I am mentally moving them to a fresher part of my brain. And if I know I can’t complete something in the given day, I move it to my longer-term digital task list.

Benefit: This prevents me from filling up my Must Do list with with items I can’t complete and gives me much better focus for the day.

Learn/Share/Give

The third list I create is a “learn, share or give” list. This list is a catch-all for anything that I want to accomplish, but is not a Must Do item and doesn’t really fit the category of a task. It includes things like ideas for learning or sharing information and goals toward giving back to others. Sometimes i use this space in my journal to do a diagram about a problem I want to solve or an idea I want to explore.

Benefit: This area achieves the advantageous of free-form writing and I can often generate new ideas from just a few minutes of time reflecting.

I highly recommend The Decision Book by Mikael Krogerus. Each page is a different diagram that you can model to make decisions as well as explore different ideas, alternatives, etc. I use this weekly for new ideas on ways to tackle problems or make decisions.

The benefits of journaling are really personal. It can be an outlet for thoughts or simply a way to better plan your day. Whatever the benefits, I encourage you to give it a try and experiment. Often it takes some trial and error, as it did for me, to find the sweet spot.

Responsive Resolutions

Happy New Year.

I’m kicking off 2015 with a blog post around self-improvement.  We talk a lot in the Responsive Org about continuous improvement through small, adaptive changes.

“Continually evolve based on the success/failures/learnings from previous runs”

 

Making it personal

I was inspired by a colleague that is applying this theory to his personal life.  Steve Nguyen wrote a blog post about making 12 monthly resolutions instead of one big (bound to fail) “new year’s resolution”.  I decided to do the same. And for the first month, Steve and I have challenged each other to wake up at 5am.

I’ll be documenting the journey on Twitter: @erickraus  and on Storify.

Social Collaboration – Are you Interested or Just Interesting?

Are you struggling to adopt a social collaboration tool?  Look no further than your company’s culture.

The value in enterprise social tools comes when we use them to be interested in our company’s success rather than use them to be seen as interesting or knowledgeable. However, that value comes with a shift in corporate culture.

Change in Culture

Warren Susman was a well-known author and history professor at Rutgers University. He was most known for his studies in culture during the 70’s and 80’s. If you haven’t read Culture as History — you have to add it to your list.

Susman was said to be “one of the transformative minds of his generation”. During his research he documented 200 years worth of self-help books. He read these books in chronological order, making notes of their key messages. He noted one very significant change right around the 20th century. Susman believed this change formed two distinct periods of culture in our history.

A Brief Look At History

19th Century — the Culture of Character

During the 19th century, the US was primarily a farming society. People rarely left their home towns. The only people we knew lived within 100 miles of us. However, these people formed a very important community that everyone relied on. We think of people during this time as having qualities like being helpful. People valued, above all else “Character”: Were they good people? Were they generous? Did they benefit and provide value to their community?

Susman called this the Culture of Character. During this period of time, social collaboration was actually occurring naturally through the interest and desire for people to contribute in a community.

20th Century — the Culture of Personality

At the turn of the 20th century, the US was undergoing a radical change with the industrial revolution. We evolved from a society of farming, where people never left their homes to one of big cities and booming business. During this time, we think of people with qualities like knowledge and communication skills. People valued “personality” more so than ever. Are you outgoing? A good public speaker? Are you liked among your peers?

Susman called this the Culture of Personality. During this period of time, social collaboration has significantly reduced. People have become more interested in getting ahead, then belonging to and supporting a community.




 

Interested vs. Interesting

The cultures of personality and character can be seen today juxtaposed between the cultures of different organizations. These corporate cultures drive behaviors aligned with how employees perceive and measure success. Well established organizations drift into to just celebrating the news. Much like the culture of personality, they share success and wins because they are interesting. Start up companies are rooted in the passion for something bigger. Much like the culture character, people are interested in the collective success of others and their company.

Social Networking Tools

Facebook and Twitter are social networking platforms I’m sure many of us are familiar with. They were created and became popular during the Culture of Personality. It’s not surprising these social platforms define success by things called “Likes” and “Favorites”. While there are many great benefits to these platforms, many people use them to share personal information. And on these tools…they strive to be the most “interesting” or liked person.

Facebook in the Enterprise

In our professional careers, having a message ‘Liked’ by our peers doesn’t necessarily have a great correlation to our success. So, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that the way we use Facebook and Twitter today would be helpful in collaborating with or leading our teams.

It’s Not a Tool Problem

I argue, it’s actually not a problem with the tools. It’s a problem with our intent. I’ve heard from many leaders who say they struggle with enterprise social because they fear posting messages that are not insightful to their team… Their intent is to be interesting. I think they have it backwards.

 

“The real value in enterprise social collaboration comes when we use them to be interested, not interesting.”

 

Businesses are Evolving – A Stronger Need for Social Collaboration

As a massive digital transformation is underway, the demands on organizations are increasing. Companies are being forced to adopt agile practices to compete with the demands of consumers and the innovation of competitors. So how can an organization reap the benefits of using a social collaboration platform to help compete in their marketplace? It starts with forming a culture around being a team and believing in shared goals.

Never Assume You Know Who May Contribute

 

Communication Like a Team

In order to succeed as a team, we must communicate like other successful teams we know. Consider an american football team’s huddle. Imagine if a quaterback only huddled with one wide receiver. What happens if that one player isn’t open? This is why email can sometimes be a bad form of a huddle. An email assumes only certain people on the team should know what is going on.

When our team communicates, we post messages to our group even if we would have otherwise sent a message to just one or two people. We mention certain people because we need their input or action; however, by communicating openly, we don’t exclude others that might need or want to know. We often get some of the best contributions from people who areinterested….but would have otherwise been left out.

A football team wouldn’t have a huddle without the entire team, why would we have a conversation without our entire team?




 

A Team Motivated By A Shared Purpose

A team motivated by a shared purpose has the most people working towards achieving its goals. This doesn’t mean people aren’t still accountable and responsible for their own commitments. It means we can do even more amazing things when we leverage our passion and strengths together.

For our team, we chose a purpose that everyone could align to. As a team, we’ve communicated that as a common goal and we celebrate milestones and individual accomplishments as wins for the whole team. Having the right goals, means everyone on the team can be interested in the team’s success, not just their own.

Leaders Set The Tone

When we feel safe, our natural reaction is trust and cooperation. Look at military leaders… Are they recruited from the best leaders in the world? Not necessarily. However, they learn and possess a quality unlike many “leaders” in the corporate world. They create a safe place where their team can do their best work. Team members in the military need to sometimes make split second decisions that often involve self-sacrifice. They do this because they are bound by a belief that their efforts support the greater good of their team. Commonly stated, “Anyone else would do the same for me”

Recently, I heard a quote that I absolutely love. It’s from Simon Sinek:

 

“The best leaders in the world are like parents. All we want is to provide for our children, so they can grow up to achieve more than we ever imagine for ourselves”

“Leadership is a choice, not a rank”

 

 

After our team adopted our enterprise social platform, we soon realized it was our new tool to get work done. It wasn’t just a migration from one tool to another… it was an evolution in productivity. We are now communicating better: more efficiently and effectively. As an unintended benefit of working out loud, we found less value in our weekly status meetings. Everyone seemed to already know the status.

We’ve since eliminated status meetings; they never drove progress for us. As a team, we’re always thinking about ‘what is next’, but burning time just catching up didn’t support that mindset. Shifting from ‘status’ to ‘outcome-based’ discussions allowed us to do that better.

Reprise: Interested vs. Interesting

As you position the value of an enterprise social platform with your teams, here are a few simple tips we’ve found successful for our team:

  • do actual work out loud
  • if there was time to email, there was time to post on social instead
  • lead by example
  • invite others to participate, by making your group public
  • avoid just sharing “interesting” articles. effect an outcome by driving a conversation

For years, “what we did” and “who we met with” have been the measures of success and contribution. As organizations become more responsive to changing markets and customer demands, it will take the collective effort of every individual at the company to work together to continually evolve to exceed customer expectations.

 

Being Helpful

I’m re-branding my definition of an Enterprise Social Network (ESN). The term ‘social network’ all-too-often implies something like Facebook — which people use as a platform to connect with friends/family and share stories, pictures and coordinate events. With that as a definition, the term ‘social’ itself can have a negative connotation with some people.Often, I hear co-workers say:

I’m not a social person…

The reality is that most of us are social by definition. We prefer to interact with others and exist in a community, rather than be alone. Even in the modern digital world of email, instant and text messaging, people still hang out by the breakroom and share stories and insights, ask questions and naturally collaborate on work.

Enterprise social networks were designed to harness that existing ‘social’ conversation and share it with people outside of the breakroom — across the whole enterprise.

You can use an ESN to be social –BUT– their value is in connecting people and their knowledge, across the company, to get work done.

So, to re-brand the enterprise social network definition, I had to first breakdown the major activities/benefits the network provides.

Connect With Others

For medium/large enterprises, chances are you’ll never meet a fraction of the people doing great work across your company.

ESNs help organizations be a community. Members of the network contribute-to and draw-from the network for the better of the company. The network gives people the ability to lean-in and take interest in helping others succeed.

The ah-ha moment came to our team a few months ago when Larry Kuhn, a colleague of mine from another team (and different geography), helped us on a customer issue we had been struggling with for several months. My team was one of several supporting the issue. After exhausting all of our local resources and escalation paths, I encouraged the issue owner to post the problem to Yammer. Proactively, Larry found our conversation, jumped in and made connections to new resources in the organization, whom we didn’t know. Those resources engaged with us and the customer and the issue was resolved in a matter of days. The customer later came back and said:

These are the types of results that set you apart from your competitors. Impressive.

These moments are no longer ‘ah-ha’ for our team — connecting with people from across the organization, in various roles and geographies, is our new way of working.

Be Interested, Not Interesting

I heard a great quote the other day from Noah Sparks

…Social is not so much an effort to be “interesting” but to be “interested” — that is when the MAGIC happens.

Ironically, to share in a network, you can think intrinsically. Whatmotivates you? What knowledge do you have? What can you SHARE? Then join related groups and subscribe to interesting people and topics. When you can add value, do so. But remember, it’s not about you…it’s about the solution.

A colleague of mine starts out every week by saying:

“I’d like to lean in for a moment. Is there anything I can do to help you this week?”

Our enterprise social network gives him the ability to lean in to people anywhere in the world and help them be successful.

Pieces of a Puzzle

Think of your work as a puzzle. Chances are you don’t have all the pieces when you start. You are immediately limited by what you know, who you know and where you are.

Everybody seems to have part of the answers that someone else needs

Enterprise social networks allow you to work openly and bring together the knowledge and perspective of others you may not have realized to ask. They empower other people to lean in and share, so you get all the pieces to the answer.

Being Helpful

So, to my colleagues that claim they are not ‘social’, I reply:

Being ‘social’ is about being ‘helpful’. It’s expanding the size of our team to include everyone across the company. It’s about being interested (not interesting), leaning in and sharing your piece to the puzzle.

 

Special thanks to Steve NguyenUrsula Llabres, and Matt Ontell for proofreading and supplying incredibly valuable feedback to this post.

Sources
Microsoft + Yammer: Transforming by Working Social — http://vimeo.com/69582155

 

~ cross posting with Medium ~

Tackle Initiatives like a Developer

As a follow up to a recent post I made on Leading a Grassroots Initiative, I wanted to share a strategy I’m following to the “Experimentation” phase of my initiative.

Software development has changed dramatically in the last few years.  No longer can companies afford to do long requirement-gathering sessions.  The needs of the business change too quickly.  Scrum/Agile development isn’t anything new, but it is becoming more critical for projects that need to show value faster.

Leading an initiative can follow many of the same methodology practices as software development.

 

Learn from developers

Building for Businesses and Users.

Roles

  • Scrum Master = Project Manager/Champion (no decision making authority)
  • Product Owner = Program Manager/Strategy Consultant
  • Development Team = Cross-functional team, empowered to agree upon and execute toward sprint commitments

 

Meetings

  • Planning Meeting – Maximum time for planning a 30-day sprint is 8 hours.
  • Daily scrum Meeting – 15 minutes total (what was done previous day, what will work on current day)
  • Sprint Review Meeting – Demonstration of what was built/learned from the experiment
  • Sprint Retrospective Meeting – self reflection on the team process, modify team/process for improvement during next spring

 

As you can see, a lot of parallels can be drawn to application development roles and process, even if the project does not directly involve development.  This is something our team is practicing with success.  It’s not universal, but helps a disparate team come together with a framework for working more effectively.

 

Bye Bye Reader

If you haven’t heard, Google (“do no evil”) is shutting down Google Reader, among other apps on July 1.  Speaking for many colleagues, Google Reader was an integral part of my social and news gathering process.  I have SEVERAL apps (mobile, traditional, etc.) that use Google Reader as the aggregation back end and it begs the question, what is my alternative.

Until I find the next best thing, I am compiling a list of alternatives that I will begin evaluating and sharing feedback here.  Also worth noting, I am not including “desktop” applications in my search.  FeedDemon is probably one of the best here for Windows.

 

NOTE: My search started out great, but due to an overwhelming amount of people looking for alternatives, most of these sites are not working appropriately any more.  Check back in the next day or so.

 

News Blur – http://www.newsblur.com/

Limitations in free account (only 64 sites is not going to cut it for me). However, I haven’t hit that limit yet and have found the site very intuitive and gives me a near Google Reader experience. Haven’t found any apps that support this (Windows specifically). For now, this is my tool.

 

Feedly – http://www.feedly.com/

Great – only that it is Firefox add-in, iOS/Android only.  Seems to be VERY popular on Twitter as an alternative.  When I load the add-in, it still asks me for a Google account.  It appears to be importing my feeds, which is ok now…but after Google Reader goes away, curious what the experience will be like.  The interface is slick and appears to offer me a comparable experience.  No Windows apps, but for others this won’t be as much of a problem.

 

 

Good Noows – http://goodnoows.com/

Simple, slick user interface.  Allows for Google Reader OPML import.  Several options to customize the layout of the page.  Good list of sources to pick from.  Doesn’t appear to have any mobile app support, but the browser experience on my Surface is not bad.

 

Q. Sensei Feedbooster – http://feeds.qsensei.com/home.html

Could not create an account. Navigating the site was awkward.  Seemed like I was logged in, but couldn’t click on anything, could not login, manage feeds, etc.

 

The Old Reader – http://theoldreader.com/

Looks promising. However, (no surprise) they are throttling their imports.  It also appears that they do not support tagging.

 

Netvibes – http://www.netvibes.com/en

Looks great – but pricing seems outrageous.   Logged in with Facebook and am working on adding content.  Doesn’t appear to be a Google Reader or OPML import feature.  It seems overly complex in comparison to Google Reader.  There appears to be an API, but my guess is that not many apps will support this.

A Career in Technology

I’m taking a break from geeky technology today to write about a great experience I recently had.  Last week, I had the opportunity to assist in hosting 100 high school girls at our Microsoft Technology Center for the 2012 Microsoft DigiGirlz Day.

The day was packed with great information on Microsoft products/services, tips for professional networking and preparing for a career in technology.  I also had the pleasure of participating in a “speed networking” event which allowed the attendees to practice rapid-fire networking with a stranger.  I was very impressed by the enthusiasm and passion many girls had towards technology-related careers.

I wanted to tackle the two most popular questions I was asked that day with a couple responses here.

 

“What should I study for a career in _______?”

Well, for starters, I’m not a career advisor, nor have I ever played one on TV.  As a disclaimer, nothing will beat meeting with a professional guidance or career counselor to talk about your unique situation.

With that said, my biggest feedback to students looking for advice on their education is to studying general disciplines that will carry over multiple jobs or even careers.  For instance, business, communications, etc.  There are several statistics that claim the average worker will change jobs 10 times in their career.  Also, knowing that there are fewer jobs today than in past years, it’s important to spend time distinguishing yourself from your peers.  Two graduates in the same program will have similar qualifications – why should someone hire you over another candidate?

Versatile Qualifications.  It is very important to learn relevant skills for your career.  In addition, differentiating yourself and adding transferrable skills will give you the longest return on your education investment.  A minor in business or communications can add depth and versatility to your qualifications.

Internships/Experience.  Do as many internships, job shadows and informational interviews as you can.  Seriously.  Not only do they add real-world experience, but it is a perfect way to build your network.  People getting jobs today are doing this.  If the company you intern or meet with isn’t hiring, at least ask to leave a resume behind and maintain a relationship.

Stay Connected.  Build your network.  If nothing else, take someone out for coffee every couple of months.  If you don’t know what to talk about, ask them questions about their job.  It will get easier as you go.  It may be surprising, but companies often create jobs just because they want someone to work with them.  Always strive to leave that lasting impression.

“Where can I go to learn more about Microsoft technology?”

Here’s a list of resources for students to explore.

Student Hub: http://www.microsoft.com/student/en-us/Connect/default.aspx#fbid=wPyV0bbZ4Cl
Student Newsletter:  https://register.msftstudent.com/signup.aspx
DreamSpark: https://www.dreamspark.com/
Microsoft Careers/College: http://careers.microsoft.com/careers/en/us/collegehome.aspx
Microsoft Students to Business:  http://www.microsoft.com/studentstobusiness/home/default.aspx

More information on DigiGirlz:  http://www.microsoft.com/about/diversity/en/us/programs/digigirlz/default.aspx

Efficient Email

When you receive 200 emails per day, it can become challenging to keep straight which emails need a response, which ones you’ve already responded to and which ones are overdue for a follow-up response.

I work very disjointedly throughout the day. I may receive an email in the morning, but I may not respond until the afternoon. However, I don’t think this is a-typical. Making sure I stay on top of emails is a priority of mine.

[…]

To assist with this, I’ve developed what I’ll refer to as the “Email Triage System” for managing email. It follows a similar framework as an Emergency Room. Highest priority cases get bumped up to the front of the line and lower priority items wait. In the case of my emails, priority is based on the status of an email.

This system has effectively got me “caught up” on emails and within any given day I can respond to all high priority emails.

Check it out for yourself.  Feedback welcome!

http://erickraus.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Email-Triage-System1.docx

Controlling your happiness and success

I just got done watching a fantastic TEDtalk by Shawn Achor.  While the focus of the talk is about rewiring our brains that a successful career will bring us happiness, the common theme can be applied to life in general.  It is encouraged that we explore how having a positive take on life will more closely determine our success in life and work, than the other way around.

I encourage you to check it out.  just 12 minutes.  Funny and inspiring.

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html